What is extraordinary is that, whether recording singly or together, Jones and Wynette derived satisfaction by performing songs which mirrored their predicament. They put their wedding vows to music in “The Ceremony” (1972) and had No 1 duets with “Golden Ring”, “You And Me” and “Near You” (all 1976), by which time they had divorced. Jones’ chilling but self-pitying songs of a marriage going wrong included “Good Year For The Roses” (1970), later a UK hit for Elvis Costello, and “The Grand Tour” (1974). The title of Jones’ first post-divorce albums said it all, The Battle and Alone Again, both 1976. Their daughter, Georgette, is now a recording artist in her own right.
Working with Wynette’s producer, Billy Sherrill, Jones made the album Bartender’s Blues (1979), the title song written by James Taylor and featuring his backing vocals. The album contained the utterly bizarre “Leaving Love All Over The Place”, about an S&M couple who kill each other. Jones was in such bad shape when he was to record My Very Special Friends (1979) that his duet partners, including Linda Ronstadt, Willie Nelson and Elvis Costello, recorded their parts first.
In 1980 Jones was given the mawkish country song “He Stopped Loving Her Today”, written by Curly Putnam and Bobby Braddock. He gave it an intensely emotional performance but it worked magnificently and led to the album I Am What I Am, which sold half a million copies. He recorded A Taste Of Yesterday’s Wine (1982) with Merle Haggard and joined Ray Charles for “We Didn’t See A Thing”. (1984).
In 1983 Jones married Nancy Ford Sepulvado, who became his manager. She sorted out his finances and bought property and a cattle farm. She encouraged his rehabilitation but it left him with a reduced lung capacity. Wary that he might not be around for much longer he recorded “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes” (1985) with some modern country stars, “I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair” (1992) and the confessional Too Wild Too Long (1987).
By now, Jones was highly influential and widely copied. He was elected to the Country Music Hall Of Fame in 1992 but he had triple-bypass surgery in 1994. In 1999 he won a Grammy for Choices, but after being sober for 13 years he drove his car into a bridge while drunk, not wearing a seatbelt and speaking to his stepdaughter on a cellphone. He recovered and continued touring. During 2013 Jones was making his final concert appearances which would have ended in November with a star-studded show in Nashville. He died of respiratory failure.